On International Women’s Day, it was great this morning that at Potentia we were able to welcome Lara Ong to our team. Lara will join Josie Gorter as one of two Investment Managers at Potentia.
It is now 18 months since we had the first financial close of Potentia Fund 1. Over that time, we’ve grown our team to almost 20 people – and we’re all proud that half our team are women.
But at this moment in time, one does not have to look far to see the steps that we as a community need to take to right some of the inherent wrongs that exist today and continue to negatively impact 50% of the population.
Over the past decade I’ve turned some of my attention to the barriers that exist to creating equal opportunity in the workplace. I was proud of the progress we made when I was CEO of MYOB in lifting female representation across the business, and specifically lifting it in some of the more challenging, technical domains. I was also proud that we were able to lower our gender pay gap and institute a number of policies aimed at addressing sexual harassment. I should also note that my successor has now achieved an exec team with 50% female representation – something I never achieved!
Along the way I learned a few things that I thought might be worth sharing.
If not, why not?
I first heard this expression from Liz Broderick, the Founder of the Champions on Change. Liz had a unique ability to ask confronting questions without making people feel apologetic, she always focused on a better future.
Asking “if not, why not?” forces people to dig deeper and deeper for answers. If the final three candidates for an executive position are all men and the goal was to have a balanced set of final candidates, why wasn’t this achieved? The responses may be many and varied, but all could be addressed with a change somewhere in the process. It is a powerful question.
Taking a different approach does not mean compromising
Early on in my conversations with managers about achieving greater gender diversity often the topic of compromise would come up: “we could get more women if we compromised on …”. When digging further into these statements it became clear that doing things differently – which was called innovation in other parts of the business – was being described as compromising when it was aimed at addressing gender inequalities in the workplace. For example, being flexible on working hours or the location of work is innovation when responding to a pandemic but compromising when addressing gender inequities.
It all starts with a conversation
The most powerful thing a leader can do to change behavior is to start a conversation. When we tried to tackle everyday sexism (the language we use, the assumptions on who cleans up a meeting room after it is used, who pours water for a guest etc.) the most powerful thing we did at MYOB was to get people talking. Sexism and sexual harassment are not easy topics to discuss, but we’ll never address them if we don’t create a common view on what they are and when they occur. This will only occur through safe, honest conversations.